10 years, 4 months ago
Three Non-commissioned officers queue up to dispel the myths, respond to the critics, end the rumors, and weigh in on rules of engagement for U.S. troops in Iraq.
On December 6, I published Politically Correct Rules of Engagement Endanger Troops. This article touched quite the raw nerve, and since the time of publication I have received many communications from various interested parties, some of them with direct knowledge of the things discussed in the article. I stated in the comments to the article that I would update the discussion with future posts, and this is my second installment on the subject of rules of engagement. Some of the communications I received from members of the military were literally stunning, and I will focus on two such communications in this article, specifically, from NCOs who were in Iraq and who are familiar with rules of engagement and the affect they have on U.S. troops.
Introduction and Background
Necessarily preliminary to this discussion is an understanding of why it is acceptable to discuss such things in the open. Does detail on this topic not constitute an OPSEC (operational security) violation? This question has been posed to me on other articles I have written. More specifically, regarding my article Snipers Having Tragic Success Against U.S. Troops, it was stated to me by one reader that the free flow of information concerning the military may be likened to the Roman roads. The same roads the Roman armies used to build the Roman empire were used by invading armies to end it. And as a result of the seed article to this one (on ROE), it was said to me that while it may not have been intentional, the affect of my article on rules of engagement was like the affect Jane Fonda had during her visit to North Vietnam. I had broken the “loose lips sinks ships” rule, and it had a detrimental affect on our ability to wage war. I must confess, I have never been compared to Jane Fonda before.
In the two articles cited above, I used only MSM reports, and tried to weave a cohesive story together from the several reports that had been filed. One of the virtues of blogging is that a vast array of reports and other information is available to the self-initiated analyst to observe trends and other characteristics of the reports. This fairly accurately describes the two aforementioned articles. Nothing original existed in them. If this information is available to me, then it is most certainly available to the enemy. More to the point, the only way, for instance, for the MSM to be able to write that the enemy knows the ROE of U.S. troops is to get the story directly from U.S. troops. The story is there with U.S. troops because they see it and live it daily. The U.S. troops get the story from the enemy. Hence, the enemy already knows the information.
To assert that a blogger with third hand knowledge of the enemy interactions with U.S. troops (e.g., dropping their weapons just prior to engagement, and then walking away when the ROE prohibits U.S. troops from engaging), packaging them up coherently, and commenting on them for several hundred people to read constitutes “loose lips” is akin to suggesting that your family accountant is responsible for the latest Congressional vote to raise taxes. Put simply, “that dog won’t hunt.”
Additionally, there is a difference between written ROE (most of which the grunt is not allowed to read), and the implementation in the field. Commercial jet airliners have manuals, but reading them, no matter how studiously, doesn’t qualify a person to pilot the aircraft. The two parties most qualified to understand how ROE affects U.S. troops are U.S. troops themselves and the enemy. The enemy sees them. The enemy fights them. They see the actual ROE in the field, and the claim that somehow a blog can affect what the enemy is watching on the ground is not compelling.
What honest, open and serious debate can do is make the general public aware of things that they would otherwise not have time to research for themselves. Finally, a post like this can serve to open and continue dialogue and debate within the military ranks on a subject that involves many raw nerves and, based on the reports below, causes an impediment to achieving the mission objectives.
I hope that this post serves as a catalyst to those ends. Concerning the two NCOs I cite below, I have done my investigative homework to verify that they are who they say they are; e-mail from *.mil network domains, independent verification from MSM accounts and other sources that the units they said that they were part of were indeed deployed to the locations and at the times that they claimed. Finally, one word is redacted from the first account for sensibilities, and per agreement with one of the NCOs, the dates, unit designations and locations are redacted from the second account (for reasons that will not be disclosed here). The language is “crusty,” and so the reader has been warned.
I would like to express my personal gratitude and sincere humility that these respected NCOs felt that they could share their experiences with me. I am honored beyond what I can express here in words.
The NCOs Speak
From an NCO who was deployed in the Kirkuk area for approximately one year.
Our ROE was simple. The right to self defense was never denied. The ROE was based on a method of determining a life threatening scenario from a non-life threatening one. We called this the “Escalation Of Force.” Show, Shout, Shove, and Shoot. It’s pretty self explanatory and easy to follow in a perfect world. The problem is that the world isn’t perfect.
Scenario: You’re a gunner on an M2 .50 caliber machine gun mounted atop a M1114 Up-Armored HMMWV. You are the last vehicle and you are pulling rear security. A vehicle in the distance is swerving through traffic on a mission from God and closing on your convoy quickly. You wave your arms to get the driver’s attention to no avail. You yell obscenities at the crazy Iraqi while drawing down on the vehicle with your large caliber, fully automatic, machine gun. Hell, you even throw your water bottle hoping to get the hood on a bounce. Nothing. You notice a male driver who appears to be gripping the wheel a little too tight and who has beads of sweat forming on his brow. You realize that this could be trouble. But… to complicate the matter, there is a woman (presumably his wife) and 4 children in the car as well. The vehicle is fast approaching… and you have a mere second to react. Your buddy’s, nay, family’s lives are on the line behind you. They trust you to make the right decision. What do you do?
Option 1: Warning shots. Sure. Can work. Collateral damage becomes an issue, and high ranking military personnel HATE such paperwork.
Option 2: Wait it out. This choice is putting the lives of a “civilian” before the lives of your military “family.” I wholeheartedly disagree with this choice, but it keeps you out of Leavenworth.
Option 3: Stop the vehicle by any means necessary. Shoot ’em up and ensure the safety of your family who depends on you.
Now with any of these options you find out in the end that either… A) Vehicle drives right on by and through the convoy, apparently the wife was in labor and they were speeding to the hospital. B) Vehicle drives right by you and slams into middle vehicle as 5 155mm Mortar rounds detonate the vehicle killing 3, wounding 4 and truly screwing up your day.
So, you don’t know if a pregnant wife is being rushed to the hospital or a family of insane insurgents are preparing to destroy you.
That is a lot of responsibility to be put on an 18 year old private sitting behind an uber powerful machine gun. That’s why our armed forces are so wonderful. We have 18 year old kids who can and do make those decisions daily. What a wonderful country we were born in.
You make the wrong move and kill civilians though, you not only have to live with the mistake, but you will be ridiculed unmercifully by the media/big army. You will be buried in proceedings and paperwork the remainder of your deployment, and you will not be the same. Your buddies will be affected as well. Cpl. X will see how bad it could be to make the wrong decision, and will hesitate just a hair too long when there is a real threat… and more men will die. The fear of failure leads to hesitation, and hesitation in war is a lesser form of suicide.
That, in my opinion, is the problem. This is not a war. The enemy does not wear uniforms, and therefore the Geneva Convention is null and void instead of applicable.
My unit, as well as the thousands of other soldiers in our area dealt with these problems on a daily basis. The “details” of the ROE changed daily. Some examples… For a time, the gunners would bring buckets full of rocks into the turret with them to throw through the windshields of vehicles not adhering to our warnings to stay away (that ended quickly after command had to pay for numerous windshields). We put signs in Arabic/Kurdish/Turkish on the backs of the vehicles warning them to stay away. We fired warning shots. We did nothing. We drove in the center of the road and dominated our routes by running ignorant drivers right off the road. We drove with the flow of traffic and narrowly averted disaster numerous times.
From another NCO who was deployed in Ramadi for about a year.
The ROE is a politically based cover your ass piece of paper. It has caused American deaths and really hurt our ability to actually DO anything …
The full ROE is classified, but soldiers are given a small 1 or so page excerpt. It is stressed that the ROE is not do be divulged or given out to anyone not in uniform, but is more of an FOUO at our level (for official use only) … They [the grunts] are told they can always defend themselves, but then given warning of “overdefending” themselves.
So yes, from the grunts on the field perspective … the ROE is vague and limiting. And every time “violations” of the ROE came up it caused our soldiers and marines to question their actions and sometimes cause casualties. If you look up the case of the [unit redacted] Soldier from the [location redacted] region you will see an excellent example. The [unit redacted] Soldiers started pulling back after that, and even though he eventually had the charges dropped it caused problems throughout the entire Battalion.
And without going into specifics if you look at [date redacted] incident when we lost two Marine pilots and an Army Lt north of [location redacted] you will see another example of how fear of ROE kept us from hitting an enemy until after he had fired at us (and led to a downed helo and an IEDed hummer). And it was almost much worse. We dropped two 500 lb bombs a little later and stopped the insurgents from a planned attack that might have led to even more deaths. And we almost didn’t do that because of ROE.
Analysis and Commentary
These reports parallel the report documented in a recent article at Blackfive by another NCO:
Let me tell you a little something about ROE (Rules of Engagement). In Baghdad thousands of people are moving around all the time. Many houses, all of them, have guns. On a general scale, none of them are planning any wrongdoing at all. But they don’t think that Americans can accomplish anything, either, because they know we can’t search at will, can’t shoot at will, can’t detain at will.
If you wish to stop a car approaching a checkpoint, you must first post a sign a long way down the road, if it is ignored, you must verbally warn them, and use a green laser to get the drivers attention. If still ignored, you must fire a warning shot with an M4, then a M240, then, finally the kill shot. If at any time the car turns away, all you can do is TRY to pursue it, never shoot at it. Technically, similar rules exist for dismounted operations, and that puts more soldiers at risk than you can possibly imagine. I’m not sure Johnny on the street has this information, but Muhammed in the mosque sure does.
I can’t even tell you how pissed it makes me to hear a JAG officer suck in breath as he tries to think real hard how to explain the murky depths of our ROE. A system that used to be a way of allowing soldiers to avoid hurting civilians by using certain weapon systems at certain times has once again degenerated into a complex “Cover Your Ass